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She is a magnificent, controlled, yet highly intense young singer. The haunting instrumental control of her voice is truly astonishing. What and how she sang were the highlights of the entire week.

-Coda Magazine, Toronto, Canada, John Norris '66

Her singing is like no one else’s. She sings thoughtful, straightforward, imaginative and with shapely inflections. A ripeness, an integrity of a sort few performers attain. There is an inevitability about the sound, a clarity that makes you wonder why no one did it before. The isolation of the word shows the song’s other side, shows its core. The scale is like a moon landscape - making sense, but so beautiful and so far from home... Phrasing fragrant with Ella Fitzgerald nuances and the sensuous insight of Lady Day.

- Woodstock News, N.Y., Woodstock Playhouse Concert, ‘66

Waters seems interested in eliminating some traditional restrictions to vocal performances for the same reason that Ornette Coleman has done away with certain foundation devices for the instrumentalist. During the process, she is opening the way for exciting possibilities.

- Downbeat Magazine, N.Y., H.P. '66

Hear her voice with the ears of wolves. A sound contour never before heard in American music and poetry. It transcends virtuosi vocalizing. It is presented as Shamanic ritual. The most perfect realization of Jazz song as siren song. Compels a revisioned understanding of the lure of the sweet woman's voice as a passage to paradise.

- Village Voice, N.Y., Norman Weinstein, critic and poet, ‘67

Miss Waters is an advocate of that vocalism which clings closest to Its primitive origins in the human cry, whether of anguish or ecstasy.

- Harper’s Magazine, N.Y., Eric Larrabee ‘68

The world of free-flowing female "jazz" vocals was never the same since Patty Waters entered the picture. Her classic debut is one of the most unearthly, haunting tracks of a generation. 

- Forced Exposure, B. Coley ‘96

Haunting melancholia... The range of tonal nuances and timbered expressiveness that she was capable of spewing from her glottals had become a strange, awe-Inspiring animal... One really ought to hip oneself to the art of Patty Waters. She Is one of the best fucking singers alive.

- Rolling Stone Magazine, N.Y., Nick Tosches '71

(ESP) recorded the first free jazz vocal of 13 minutes, “Black is the Color of My True Love's Hair,” that I did with Patty Waters. People still get their blood curdled behind that. Patty was like a newspaper. That record put my name on the map. They knew who I was when I got to Europe.

- Downbeat Magazine, N.Y., Interview of Burton Greene, pianist/composer '80

Patty Waters, Who can forget that record?

- L.A. Herald Examiner, CA, David Weiss '81

“Patty Waters Sings” album listed in Critic's Poll “Forgotten Genius: Everyman’s Jazz Library of the Obscure and Neglected.” A sound contour never before heard in American music.

- Village Voice, N.Y., Norman Weinstein, '88

Patty Waters' soft, breathy voice can have the emotional impact of Billie Holiday..

- Pacific Monthly, Carmel/Monterey CA '90

“Patty Waters Sings,” as well as her “College Tour” album, should be considered one of the better free Jazz records to come out of the sixties.

- OP Independent Music Magazine, WA, Christopher Stigliano '92

Torch songs delivered in a chesty whisper... And “Black is the Color...” made her a certified phenomenon.

- Record Collector's Goldmine Magazine. WI, Dr. Robert Campbell '93

ESP Disk: The most Interesting independent American label of all time. The Infinitely important ESP free jazz titles...are especially great to hear.

- Forced Exposure, MA. Byron Coley '93

Praised by people like Miles Davis. her range moves easily from intimacy to introspection to rage. and her evocation of “Black is the Color of My True Love's Hair” has no parallel In musical history.

- San Francisco Sentinel, CA. Michael Mascioli ‘93

Anyone who doesn't own both of Patty Waters' ESP-Disks is missing out on one of life’s treasures

-Deja News '93

The world of free-flowing female "Jazz" vocals was never the same since Patty Waters entered the picture. Her classic debut is one of the most unearthly, haunting tracks of a generation.

-Forced Exposure, MA, Byron Coley '93

The still astonishing “Black is the .Colour of My True Love's Hair” remains unforgettable and makes this a landmark ESP release.

-The Wire. E. Pouncey '93

An act of great emotional courage. A landmark in modem avant-garde music history. We are lucky it exists

-Perfect Sound Forever. D. Monypeny '93

-The New York Times, Sunday, March 19 2006

Playlist, Ben Ratliff

Patty Waters
Released late last year, “You Thrill Me” (Water) collects demos and oddments from the personal collection of the jazz singer Patty Waters, who became famous in the New York jazz underground for raising her mellowed-out voice to a five-alarm shriek in her 1965 recording of “Black Is the Color of My True Love’s Hair.” These recordings are from before and after that time, and in many cases the performances are better, with surer pitch and stronger delivery: demos for Columbia in 1964; studio tracks from 1960, 1970 and later. Ms. Waters used to be a question mark, but here's the evolution: early on there was some rigorous studying of Ella Fitzgerald; later she passed through Billie Holiday and Nina Simone, before finding her own frequency of breathy, blissed-out anomie (and the tumultuous vocal freakouts that you won’t find here); then she went back to more stylized singing that was richer and more commanding for the search she undertook.


Dan Singer - New York City

Turns the spotlight on some overlooked singers of the past.



DBK Works 523

This CD is taken from a 2002 concert at the Noe Valley Ministry in San Francisco, California. I’ve raved about her previous CD on the Jazz Focus label (#12) in ITI #108. Here there are 16 songs, all performed most intimately and deeply. Her sound takes a while to get used to. Her style, like no other, is riveting. While a bit hoarse, she actually is quite clear and is certain to excite you. The most similar singer she reminds me of is Mabel Mercer. Her ‘been there and done that’ mood is quite obvious when she sings Ellingtonia. “In My Solitude” (Delange/Mills) is sung with a finely woven intimate understanding. Paul Webster’s haunting lyrics to “I Got It Bad And That Ain’t Good” will leave you exhausted. Vocal ballad artistry like this is most difficult to perform because it’s too intimate. Patty pulls it off most easily. “Good Morning Heartache” (Higginbotham/Drake/Fisher) has Patty’s individual one of a kind style. Its obsessiveness reminds me of lady Day’s version. It’s bone chilling. Her classy programme continues with a taste of Gershwins “I loves You Porgy”. It’s lavishly depressing. Patty sinks her teeth into a pair of songs by Yip Harburg. She rips into "Old Devil Moon"(Lane) with a light hearted soft swing aided by a stellar solo by Seward McCain on bass. The CD’s title song (Arlen); with a respectful nod to Ethel Waters, is revived here with such enormous vocal purity it's actually as serious a rendition as you’ll ever hear. Patty continues to clearly excel in emotion filled singing.

She’s broader and deeper than many might have known.

Headlining The Vision Festival NYC May, 2003

The New York Times, MAY 24, 2003 Ben Ratliff

“The singer Patty Waters was the closing act of the festival’s opening night on Wednesday, and the best part of the evening. She freshened up the room, but she didn't do so by traditional means.

Miss Waters made two albums in the mid-60's for the free-jazz label ESP, then retreated to California and Hawaii, withdrawing from music until a few years ago. Her performance was her first in New York in decades.

Ms. Waters is best known for a performance of the folk song “Black is the color of My true Love's Hair“ in which she builds up to harrowing shrieks...But now, she is a much more subtle singer. The Scream made only one brief, toned-down appearance.

She sang two songs associated with Billie Holiday “Strange Fruit” and “Don’t Explain,” as well as “Nature Boy“ and her own “Moon don't Come Up Tonight“. As she did so, she shut her eyes tightly, grimaced and approached the notes of the melody gingerly, in her quiet, husky voice, as if landing on them squarely might have frightened them away. It was (an) inward performance, but a moving one.... If she had really been experiencing the kind of pain that she was channeling, the audience might not have noticed, since many in the room were either videotaping her or sitting in impenetrable record-collector raptures.

Reviews for THE VISION FESTIVAL NYC May, 2003


“The Eighth Annual Vision Festival-dedicated to avant jazz and arts ...

The opening turns out to be a very important event, as the night concludes with PATTY WATERS’ first NYC concert since ...the 60’s ... with a flower girl presence ...Her voice is as fine as ever. Same goes for her haunting delivery on what turns out to be a mere handful of songs.


Review by Guillaume Lagree at Les 7 Lezards, Paris, France March 2006

“With Strings and Cries”

Henry Grimes plays without microphone. He has no need for it. The power of the sound is there. The wood. Depth. Imagination. In short, it is as great as on his albums of the '60's with Sonny Rollins, Don Cherry, Albert Ayler or Pharoah Sanders-­whereas he did not touch a double-bass from 1968 to 2002! Listening to him, one includes/understands immediately where William Parker’s sound comes from. Not astonishing that William offered a double-bass to Henry to enable him to return on the music scene: a right homage to the Master. One finds also the sound of Jimmy Garrison or that of Mingus, who was said to have made his bass sound like the great organ of a cathedral.

The long preliminary solo of Henry Grimes recalls that of Jimmy Garrison on “Impressions” at Antibes on July 26, 1965, but with the bow, Henry Grimes sounds in a way much more aggressive and tortured than Garrison, while at the same time Henry’s face breathed calm and wisdom.

The flame of the free jazz should not die out and will not die out!

The room is far from full — misfortune for the absent ones. In costume tie, capped with a tennis player’s headband, displaying a large badge like a saucer with a photograph on it, he had a holy look, this powerful man.

After 15 minutes of an enormous double-bass solo, Patty Waters sang gently at the rate and rhythm of the bow. It is magic and moving. She has such a strong air, and yet so fragile! She sings “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,” and she is believed.

In the room, some French musicians come to listen to the American giants: Sophia Domancich (who played in the first part of the evening), Simon Goubert, Alain Jean-Marie.

The piece lasts, is stretched, and gradually, the room is envoûtée [enveloped?] by this voice, which undulates, breaks like waves on the shore, carried by the rate and rhythm of the double bass. Here, the words do not count for their direction, but for their sound. “Love,” repeated many times, becomes an incantation, a petition. “The desperate songs are the most beautiful songs, and I know immortal ones that are pure sobs,” wrote Alfred de Musset. It is exactly what occurs this evening. By repeating the same word but varying the intonations, Waters makes it possible for Grimes to improvise; it is she who accompanies him, and also the reverse. They finish this piece of thirty minutes with “I Love Paris” and a gracious smile from Patty, completing the enchantment in the room.

After the break, Henry Grimes launches out in a new solo of introduction. Patty Waters seems timid and filled with wonder. Grimes is much more frenzied with the bow than in pizzicato; he calms down as soon as he plays the strings with his fingers. “Strange Fruit” of Billie Holiday: a hallucinatory ballad. Waters states the words well, but one could not say that Grimes plays the melody so much as triturates it, the axe [?], the revival [?]. Patty Waters doesn't’t scat, but repeats the words, stretches them, prolongs them. Soon it is “Lonely Woman” of Ornette Coleman, not even time to applaud. This time, she launches and he accompanies. It is certainly not as perfect technically as Helen Merrill with Ron Carter (meetings with Dick Katz), but so touching... It connects with the “Don't Explain” of Billie Holiday? on the razor’s edge. as if her life depended on it, rare feeling. Then she groans, howls her pain; she seems to cry while singing.

Next, Patty leaves the scene and lets Lydia Domancich settle at the piano. Alain Jean-Marie, a true gentleman, lets her play first. After a short aside, Domancich and Grimes launch out into “Lonely Woman.” Simon Gaubert takes photographs. It would be said that Sophia and Henry always played together, so much the music takes off. Each one answers the stimuli with the impulses of the other. It is coordinated and impetuous at the same time.

The duet of Henry Grimes and Patty Waters was not recorded. Will it be one day? At least let us hope to be able to hear it again in front of a larger audience, but as attentive as that of this evening at Les 7 Lezards, Paris, France. March 2006


March News 2005 PARIS Transatlantic Magazine


Patty Waters "You Thrill Me"

by Clifford Allen

The importance of figures like Charlie Parker, John Coltrane and Albert Ayler in the history of jazz is that they not only influenced scores of saxophonists ­Ayler himself was called “Little Bird” as a Cleveland upstart - but their influence extended beyond to other instruments. Bird’s influence on pianists like Bud Powell has been well documented, as has Coltrane's. Ayler's impact was obvious not only on tenor saxophonists like Frank Wright and Frank Smith, and trumpeters like his brother Don, but on figures like singer Patty Waters, whose concept and delivery both owe much to Ayler's approach. Born in Iowa, raised in Denver, and musically trained in Southern California, Waters moved to New York in the early 1960s, where, after working with Jaki Byard and sitting in with Charles Mingus (one can only assume she was singing “Weird Nightmare”!), Ayler heard her and recommended her to Bernard Stollman as an ESP-Disk' possibility. She recorded Patty Waters Sings for the label on December 19, 1965, accompanying herself on piano for seven short, moody tracks on side one, and for side two, engaged pianist Burton Greene and his usual working trio (with drummer Tom Price and bassist Steve Tintweiss) on the mythic side-long exposition of “Black is the Color of My True Love's Hair.” Waters, with the trio rustling behind and around her, recites the first verse of the tune in a hushed vibrato, then after a brief Greene solo, focuses on the word “black,” abstracting it first into elongated tendrils of sound, then becoming wordless as she sighs, wails like a banshee, screams and shouts, hinging upon “black” again as the music's intensity builds and - eventually explodes. Like Ayler, she uses simple folk song motifs for most of her free explorations (“Hush Little Baby” being another favorite - see the follow up LP, College Tour), taking a phrase and repeating it naggingly, at the same time altering it into cathartic shouts and wails of pure emotion. At a fundamental level, Waters took it farther 'out' than Ayler; the saxophone~ after all, separates the human from the sound being produced - it is a machine. But when the sound is coming from human vocal chords, its connection to our feelings is purer, more naked. Waters' music is extremely direct, and this is probably the most bone-chilling music ever recorded under the banner of free improvisation. Most listeners of Waters' music instinctively head for College Tour or side two of Sings, yearning for sounds of soul-baring and soul-probing intensity. We often forget about the music that takes up side one of Sings, short ballads of love and loss sung in a hushed voice, full of contradiction. The music on side one is in effect 'straight,' not improvised upon, and yet it is in some ways more impenetrably mysterious than her free singing. Simultaneously smooth and gravelly, words are bent and extended in ways that hint at what she is capable of, but stop short of the pyrotechnics.

You Thrill Me, a collection of previously unissued demo takes and personal recordings, continues in this vein, proving that this “side one” of her music is just as worth investigating.

Beginning with a jingle for Jax Beer (!?!), the disc follows with 1964 demos for Columbia including “You Thrill Me,” “Why Can’t I Come To You” (both of which grace side one of Sings) and “At Last I Found You.“ Waters had not yet reached her more experimental“ side, and though differences between the recordings (beyond between-take banter) might seem superficial, these are far straighter versions than appear on the ESP date, particularly “Why Can’t I Come To You”, whose tonality wavers far less than it does on Sings. Waters returned to California in the late '60s, probably shortly after recording with tenorman Marzette Watts for Savoy in 1968 (notably an earth-shattering,lyrical version of “Lonely Woman”), and the remainder of the disc comes from her previously undocumented 1970s sojourn on the West Coast. Apart from a lengthy, minimal solo piano piece, “Touched by Rodin in a Paris Museum,“ the music consists of fairly brief voice-and-piano pieces. Her subtle intervallic jumps, dissonant (vocal) chords and wavering notes are all here, the way she growls and elides through “For All We Know“ and breathily futzes with “Love is the Warmth of Togetherness” are proof that the experiments of 1965-66 made her into one of the most startling and unique vocalists of the post-Billie Holiday era.

In theory, one could say that Waters’ love songs are. like Ayler’s standards on Something Different! and My Name Is Albert Ayler, a way to familiarize oneself with forms before tearing them apart, but also a reinvigoration of the forms themselves through experimentation. Ayler left an indelible mark on “Summertime” — so much so that his is just about the only version worth hearing - and Waters does.the same, both on standards and her own ballads. Ironic though that an album of unissued recordings only serves to make her an even more enigmatic and curious figure than she was before. -CA

Reviews by Scott Soriano, 

All rights to author  8/20/02

Patty Water’s fIrst album opens with a dull thud of a piano chord and it is the saddest thing you will ever hear. That is, until her voice comes in over a few shattered notes. For six more songs, Waters puts .... fuck it, this is probably the most difficult record I could think of reviewing. How do you review pure emotion? How can you put into words the sound of desperation and defeat? There are no words raw enough to reflect what Patty Waters did in this record.

I picked up this record as a reissue a couple years ago on a whim. I didn’t know of its legendary status among record geeks and jazzheads. I liked the cover: A fuzzy black and white photo of a sad-eyed, gapped-tooth woman.

I read the liner notes: Patty Waters was born in the 1940s. She sang for the Jerry Grey Hotel Jazz Band. She moved to Denver and got into Billie Holiday. She got voice training in LA. In the early 60s, she was in New York, where Albert Ayler heard her sing and dragged her to ESP. She recorded this album in 1965. She did one other album with Burton Greene, Dave Burrell and a bunch of other underground jazz legends. She had a kid with Clifford Jarvis, drurrimer for Sun Ra, Archie Shepp and others. She recorded again in 1968 with the M. Watts Ensemble. Then she disappeared.

In 1996, she reappeared and made an album with Sacramento jazz pianist, Jessica Williams. In 1999, she performed at the Monterey Jazz Festival to much enthusiasm.

Patty Waters Sings has 7 songs on side one, written for piano and voice. Ms Waters commands both. Side two is her backed by the Burton Greene Trio on the song Black Is The Color Of My True Loves Hair, a 15 minute dive into pain, confusion, fear, and violence. Nina Simone later covered the song and did a good job, but nothing can match the depth Waters brings to her composition.

The fIrst time I listened to this, I had to go out for a walk after hearing side one.

A half hour later I was “ready” for side two. I didn't listen to one piece of music for the next three days. Patty Waters debut album is one of the top 100 records ever released. I know of no other record that houses as much raw emotion.

Posted by: JSngry Sep 21 2004, 09:29 AM

My god, does singing get any more honest than this?

A collection of material from Waters' own personal collection, this set includes a 1964 Jax Beer jingle (w/Joe Newman!), a 1963 demo session for Columbia (produced by Tom Wilson, whose between-take chatter is priceless, a 1960 cut recorded in San Diego (when Waters was still singing, quite well, too, in a “traditional” “torch song” style, and, the real news, pieces recorded in 1970, 1971, 1972, and 1979, years which Waters was allegedly “lost” a la Henry Grimes.

The material is a collection of standards and originals. The latter are very, VERY personal in their lyrics. Some might even call them obsessive. They focus on loneliness and love for somebody who's not there anymore (possibly Clifford Jarvis?), and they are at once compelling and disturbing, although Waters' delivery is very, VERY low-key. There's also a long solo piano piece that is simply beautiful. Nothing at all “difficult” about it, but the timing and the sensitivity of the playing makes it difficult not to get pulled in/wrapped up in it.

Highlight of the disc for me is a version of “;For All We Know” from 1979 - just a vocal-piano duet (all the vocal numbers save for the Jax thing, are piano (either Waters herself or somebody else) and vocal only. This song has a pretty intense lyric anyway, but Waters sings it with a mixture of resignation, sadness, loss, and quiet (VERY quiet) desperation that is the definitive reading of it, at least that I've heard.

There's none of the groundbreaking extended vocal techniques of the ESP albums. This is just a collection of songs by a woman who sounds like she's been there and back, and if she hasn't yet begun to find all the pieces to put back together yet, she definitely knows what it'll be like when she does. IF she does (and reports are that she has, thank God).

Certainly not for everybody in these less-than-vocalist-friendly parts, but those inclined to get into singers and songs that are totally devoid of artifice and cut straight to the bone of what's going on inside are advised to check it out. It's frighteningly intimate and vulnerable, at times maybe even “unhealthily” so, but I can handle that.

BTW - There's a nude photo from 1970 inside the booklet. But it's not nearly as naked as the singing.


Posted by: David Gitin Sep 21 2004, 10:55 Am

QUOTE (JSngry @ Sep 21 2004, 09:29 AM)

This is just a collection of songs by a woman who sounds like she's been there and back; and if she hasn’t yet begun to find all the pieces to put back together yet, she definitely knows what it’ll be like when she does. IF she .. does (and reports are that she has, thank God).

Patty is happily living in Hawaii these days. She used to live in Santa Cruz, California area and I got to hear her wonderful singing at Monterey Jazz Festival a few years ago, not to mention hearing her quite a few years ago (1966) with Burton Greene, Giusseppe Logan (and on same bill, Sun Ra).


From Billboard Russia (August 2007 edition) - Translated from the Russian

ESP Disc by itself is an extremely strange label. But among the mass of crazies, published by Bernard Stollrnan, there are especially strange names. One of them is Patty Waters - intimate and uncompromising, mold-breaking singer, that didn't let the blues die and turned it upside-down not thinking of consequences. It was after there were Diamanda Galas or a talented imitator of art Yoko Ono. But in the beginning Albert Ayler brought Patty Waters on ESP Disc, where Richard Alderson recorded an incredible and undoubtedly strange album. “First seven songs, as personal diary pages, sounding quietly, on the verge of whisper and dull soulful pain, are no longer than two-three minutes. But suddenly, the last, eighth, “Black Is the Color of My True Love's Hair”, is powerful and mold-breaking, with vocal desperation and improvisation for the thirteen minutes and complete lapses of memory.”

Patty Waters Speaks

Interview by Larry J. Nai from Halana, issue #2, January 1997

Such is the reputation of singer/composer Patty Waters that, when her name is mentioned in the music press, it's usually preceded with the words “… the legendary.” In the mid ... sixties, Patty was ushered into the office of Bernard Stollman, head of the ESP~Disk record label, by Albert Ayler, who urged Stollman to record her. He did, and everyone who heard her has reeled from the impact ever since. Her first album, Patty Waters Sings, begins with the eerie, desolate, voice-and-piano landscape of “Moon, Don’t Come Up Tonight,” its stark mood relatively grounded by Patty's warm-breath-on-the-back-of-your-neck vocal, so soft as to be almost a cry. She continues in this vein for the remaining six songs of the side (remember sides?), and then comes the track that her reputation rests on: The side-long version of the traditional “Black is the Color of My True Love’s Hair." Here, Patty applies the extended techniques of horn-players and label-mates such as Ayler, Pharoah Sanders, Giuseppi Logan, and Frank Wright, to her voice- caressing, twisting, and distending the politically /socia11y charged word "Black" (this was 1965) for some 13 and a half minutes, from a whisper to a scream, to borrow a phrase. Her slow ascent on the word at the 8 minute mark is one of the most thrilling moments of sixties Free Jazz, and she repeats this approach to particularly Ayleresq.ue effect on her next album, College Tour, most notably on “Song of the One I Love.” In a particularly felicitous effort on the part of ESP's design department, Patty is photographed on the cover of her first album as if she has just emerged from mysterious darkness.

In a way, Patty led a charmed life in those days: Recording for the ESP label, the first, and still one of the best, bodies of documentation of Free Music; dating Lenny Bruce, the hugely influential comedian/performance artist; club--hopping and socializing with the likes of Sun Ra, Ornette Coleman, the Fugs, anyone and everyone who was a part of the amazingly fertile ground that was New York at the time. Her influence and lineage, from Yoko Ono to Diamanda Galas and beyond, continues to this day, with the current round of ESP reissues-finally on compact disc-domestically available courtesy of the German ZYX Music Company. On CD, Patty’s albums are a revelation if you've only heard the vinyl; her supple voice, and the pointed contributions of accompanists such as Burton Greene, Ran Blake, Giuseppi Logan, and Dave Burrell, are now revealed in ideal clarity. What is missing, as you read her words, is that voice-the cadences of her thinking, the rich, womanly breath that forms her sentences, the girlishly sexy laugh that she has. Patty still sings today, and hopes to record again in circumstances that will bring out the music that she hears in her head. For now, do yourself a favor, and get to know an essential chunk of recorded history. -LJN

LJN: What do you feel is the function of Art?

PW: It seems to me that the culture of humanity is shaped, for better or worse, by Art. Art is very important to reaching the higher self-people need it in their lives. It can be the most beautiful part of a person's goals, and their appreciation of living and relating to each other.

LJN: "When did you first develop this notion?

PW: In childhood. There were always people around who would appreciate the beautiful things in the world, or would be performing music or dance or poetry. As a child, I learned to appreciate these things-and continued to all my life.

LJN: What were some of the really magical experiences you had with the arts as a child?

PW: Well, I had a neighbor lady who loved her flowers, and she also played the harp, a really beautiful instrument. I used to stand outside the window of her house just to see it-it was so pretty, even when she wasn't playing it. Also, seeing the ballet Swan Lake as a little girl was a treat; I remember being thrilled sitting next to the prima donna in the car afterwards. Even circuses were an influence: Being delighted by the glamour of performers, and the magical, whimsical side of the entire event. Living life in more creative ways, you know?

LJN: At what age did you start to produce your own artistic efforts?

PW: Well, I think all children do these things, don I t they? Things like drawing, painting, singing songs.... I can recall Sunday School activities where we combined all of these things. I'd say those little classes were a very creative time for me; playing with toys and listening to music and pretending I was a ballerina.

LJN: How about when you became an adolescent?

PW: My grandfather bought a bicycle and a music case for me; I used to ride my bicycle to piano lessons, and the woman who taught me used to give recitals. I enjoyed listening to her play very much. I also played in a recital myself, that my grandfather attended-he was a sweet man, very proud of me-that was nice. I think that if children could take just one year of piano lessons, it would help them in many ways. A year of lessons gave me a very firm foundation.

LJN: Do you play piano still?

PW: A little but-not in public.

LJN: On your first album, Patty Waters Sings, you accompany yourself on piano. I've always been struck at how evocative your playing is on these songs, how well it supports the mood of the lyrics; there's this kind of late-night, ghostly atmosphere.

PW:  Thanks, I'm glad. They were all composed at night. And I love the sound of a piano. For slower-tempoed songs, the instrument has to be a very fine one, and the better the piano, the more I like it.

LJN: One of your frequent accompanists in the sixties was Burton Greene, who also recorded for ESP, and continues to perform currently. How did you feel about his playing?.

PW: Oh, it was fun, wonderful! I always enjoyed singing with him. We had a nice back-and-forth communication, inspiring each other. I've been thinking of asking him if he'd like to do it again. We've stayed in touch through the years.

LJN: When you started performing in public, do you remember the first time you felt you were really doing what you were aiming for?

PW: That's hard to say; it's such a struggle to get to what you're really aiming for. I think I felt more of myself on that first album - that may have been the most satisfied I've been with my music. It was also a little frightening, as well, taking that courageous step.

LJN: Meaning what?

PW: The type of music I was doing; I felt that there might be a lot of people who would hate it. I hoped that people would understand the music, but I knew that not everybody would. But it was worth the risk, and I was happy about that.

LJN: Which of your approaches on that album are you talking about here? The shorter, more conservative songs, or the avant-garde approach in the long version of "Black is the Color of My True Love' s Hair? It

PW: I was more hesitant about the avant-garde approach of the long piece. I think that both approaches were valid and real, and close to whom I really was, so I have no apologies about that. Actually, the shorter pieces broke lots of traditional rules of composition.

LJN: Even though the two sides of your work on that album were very different, there's a strong unity to it-you can tell that it's all coming from the same woman, that there's a single mind at work.

PW: I'm happy that you heard about them. That’s great.

LJN: What was the reception to the album at the time?

PW: I was interviewed for Rolling Stone and reviewed in downbeat and some other magazines. I was ·also asked to go on a tour of New York State colleges soon afterwards, which was recorded. Then came my second album. I did a few more concerts. One I did at Woodstock, with Burton Greene and his group, was extremely successful-Burton and I both wish it had been recorded. There was another successful concert at Tompkins Square Park, with a huge amount of people in the audience, and another success at the Cellar Cafe in Toronto, with Marion Brown and his band. And I did clubs in New York, art galleries, lofts … After that period, I left the states, and spent some time in. Europe and Canada. I really enjoyed that European vacation. I've been back since, but I think one's first time in Europe is the best. I went all over, even spent a month in Morocco. Just walking down the streets of Rome, going through the museums and streets of Paris and Florence-everything was· beautiful, the taxicabs in London, the different types of architecture, the landscape. Morocco was very exotic. When I came back to New York, I got pregnant, and, after I had my baby boy, I moved to Mill Valley, California.

LJN:  What year was that?

PW: That was 1970. At that point, I was unaware of what was happening with my albums. Tower Records in San Francisco was still selling them, and a few people knew who I was. They’d come up to me and say: "Are you Patty Waters? I love your records. And I'd get letters with articles about my music enclosed. I've saved all that, but I pretty much made those two recordings, and disappeared.

LJN: Can you talk more about your perception of the music scene you were involved in around "65-'66?

PW: Well, in '65-actually all through the years I spent in New York-I was just out every night, going to clubs, parties.... It was just being out and about in New York City, for a 3-and-a-half year period. I worked little jobs here and there, like I had one job as a hotel waitress on Wall Street. So I would sleep late in the morning, then go out at night. I loved listening to the music being played in the clubs; there was so much happening, between the traditional jazz and the avant-garde. I feel fortunate that I got to hear so much great music!

LJN: Did you feel there was a movement among the avant-garde musicians toward a more socially & politically aware approach to the music?

PW: I think so. There was a group of musicians who organized themselves into a Guild, to work out ways that they could play and make more money, I think it was Sun Ra and Cecil Taylor, Paul Bley, Burton Greene, Roswell Rudd ....

LJN: The Jazz Composers' Guild?

PW: Yeah, that's it. They were just trying to figure out some things and support each other, somehow find the strength to continue. The traditional jazz artists, of course, were still appearing everywhere throughout that period, at the Vanguard, the Village Gate, the Half Note. But, as I see it, in the sixties, the country was excited about the possibility that dreams could become reality. Music and art becoming experimental, after being so thoroughly well done by traditional standards, may have been the next logical step. People, also, had been calm and patient for long enough. The air was filled with hopes and anticipation. I love and respect traditional things, including music, but exploring new ideas, finding new meanings ... not discarding the traditional, but extending it, you know? It creates something altogether new. The flower children and the sciences were both breaking with tradition; the South was breaking with tradition. Avant-garde musicians felt an urge to make new music.

LJN: In retrospect, what do you think the avant-garde movement brought to jazz?

PW: Harmonic innovations, rhythmic innovations-speaking for the times.

LJN: You've said that Albert Ayler introduced you to Bernard Stollman, who founded the ESP label.

PW: That's true, yes.

LJN: What was your familiarity with Ayler's music at that point?

PW: He had played his recordings for me, and we became friends; I remember taking long walks and talking, meeting his brother Donald.... They would come by my apartment and talk about what they'd been doing, what work they were trying to find, concerts they were doing, things like that.

LJN: Some of the very soft vocalizations you did on your College Tour album remind me of some of Ayler's playing, and also of Norman Howard's trumpet work on Ayler's Witches and Devils album, from 1964. Did these people have an influence on your


PW: I'm sure they did. At the time, I was also dating Clifford Jarvis, who was Sun Ra's drummer; he was also working a lot with people like Thelonious Monk, Jackie McLean, Freddy Hubbard, Grant Green .... I was just listening to all the people that I could. I always tried to see Sun Ra when he was playing-I even went to rehearsals. My biggest pleasure was going to hear people perform.

LJN: Where did your extended vocal techniques come from? Did you study, or were they instinctive?

PW: I'd say they came out instinctively. My teachers have always been the musicians that I've listened to; I never really had lessons.

LJN: What type of music were you doing in your New York and Toronto gigs? Was it a mixture of the traditional and the avant-garde, or full-on avant-garde?

PW: It was all the avant-garde approach, with those musicians. I did a few conservative kinds of things at an upper east-side club with Richard Wyands on piano; I was also very fortunate to be able to sit in with a lot of people. I sat in with Bill Evans, Chick Corea, John Hicks, Walter Davis Jr., Roland Hanna, Kirk Lightsey, and sang with Herbi Haricock at his home. I just enjoyed the company of musicians: Keith Jarret, Joe Henderson, Charles Lloyd, Joe Chambers, Kenny Dorham. It was a very pleasant part of living in New York.

LJN: Were you aware of other people who had established precedents for the type of singing you were doing?

PW: I don't think anybody else was doing that kind of thing, no.

LJN: Many people see you as a big influence on singers like Yoko Ono and Diamanda Galas. How do you feel about that?

PW: I think Yoko Ono thanked me on the back of one of her album covers. Diamanda Galas may have said something similar in an interview, that I was an influence, I'm not sure.

LJN: Patti Smith mentioned you in a poem of hers once, and you saw her perform a few months ago. What interests you about her?

PW: I think she has a wonderful energy and stage presence. She's a very generous performer, always moving in an interesting way. I don't know her personally, but she seems to be a very kindhearted person.

LJN: There is a perception about Patti that many writers have attributed to you as well, of being a sort of shamaness, who draws her music from a higher consciousness. How do you feel about this type of discourse about music, in which the musician in question is dealt with in very conceptual terms? When you were developing your music in the sixties, did you think about it in similar ways?

PW: Yes. I was trying to be as deep into my consciousness as I could be, trying to be as real and honest as I could. I think it's great that people receive that from the music, that it can reach people in that way.

LJN: But do you think that this tendency to mythologize musicians is accurate, or does it do a disservice to musicians?

PW: I think that writers would not write that way about people if they didn’t feel that way about them. In other words, I don't think that a writer would put anyone who he didn't feel touched him deeply into that higher kind of category. Norman Weinstein wrote an article about me called "Moving Through the Length of Voice" in which he referred to me as a shamaness, and I think that he must have felt something special about my singing to write like he did about it. And I've gotten things from other people-there's a poet in London, David Miller, who wrote some beautiful things about my voice being a "fierce wind, " for example-and I think that, if I can inspire poets to write, that's all the better! (laughs.)

LJN: Having recorded for ESP, and living in New York during the period you did, you were in the circle of a lot of musicians who were on the cutting edge of the avant-garde jazz scene. After you moved to California in 1970, what were your observations on how the music had changed from that very rich period?

PW: A lot of musicians from New York were coming out here on tour, so I still continued to see a lot of them. There were some wonderful things that came out to the west coast. I did feel that there were some musicians who stayed very traditional in their playing-Bill Evans, for example-but there were others who incorporated the avant-garde into their approach. It's up to the musician; if he or she feels a particular movement is strong, they might want to see how they enjoy playing in a different style. A musician who wants to be thorough in his experience generally wants to try a lot of different things.

LJN: Did you hear any native music when you were in Europe, like when you stayed in Morocco?

PW: Yeah, that was fun! I went into the Casbah, and places where they would have male belly dancers-l didn’t see any female belly dancers-and they played music over the city of Tangier at night, sort of like a lullaby. It was very beautiful, very peaceful.

LJN: In terms of differences between Europe and America, what kinds of observations were you making when you were traveling overseas?

PW: I felt it was terrific to be over there. It was exciting for me to see the uniqueness of each country. I knew that I was very American, but that it would be easy for me to live there as well. People seem more serious in Europe, more respectful toward their art and architecture, and their elders. More responsible, somehow. They appreciate their

history, their home. Italy was my favorite country.

LJN: Why so?

PW: There's an abundance of beauty everywhere, beautiful architecture, wonderful people, wonderful food.... Italy is so rich in architecture, landscape, works of art. For some reason, there seemed to be more beautiful things there than in any other country. And France-Monaco, the Riviera, the Pyrenees in southern France-it was a treat to be able to see all of that.

LJN: Let's get back to your return to the States in 1970. What else were you doing at that point?

PW: I immediately went to Canada, to Montreal and Toronto. Returned to New York; nine months later, had my son, then started a new life in Mill Valley, California. When be was six, I started taking classes at the Community College and got three degrees: One in Art, one in Humanities, and one in Liberal Arts. It was sort of a challenge that I set for myself. I went on to receive an Art/Expressive Arts BA degree.

LJN: Were you doing any performing or recording at the time?

PW: No, I wasn't; I was going to hear other people. I wrote a little music then, but mostly just listened to other people-I've always enjoyed that very much.

LJN: Who are some of your favorite musicians to listen to?

PW: I love Ornette Coleman, Eric Dolphy, Miles Davis-through all of his stages-but there's still so much I haven’t heard. I'd like to hear every Ellington recording, all the old Blue Note and Riverside recordings. I wish I could go back and listen to all of the recorded music of the sixties, because I was going out to hear live music all the time, and visiting with people in the music. I have to live a long life to be able to hear everything I want to hear! (laughs)

LJN: Do you listen to your own recordings?

PW: Very rarely. Although, with the passage of time, it's a little easier to hear them now.

LJN: Why is that?

PW: Well-it doesn't seem as closely connected to me now as it did then. I'm a different person now, and I can be a little more detached.

LJN: How is the Patty Waters of today different from the Patty Waters of thirty years ago?

PW: (Long pause.) I'm not sure. Probably a little more patient now. I've worked out some ways for me to enjoy life, where it was a little more of a struggle before. I'm better at knowing now what kinds of things I enjoy, and what things I'd rather avoid.

LJN: What occupies your time these days?

PW: I'd like to say travel. However, I love libraries, especially the music departments in libraries. I'd like to read all the classics of literature. I love flowers, eating good food. With my son, I've traveled to Mexico, Canada and Hawaii. I'd love to go to Brazil-I've been listening to more Brazilian music lately. But I love jazz, and I think if I moved to Hawaii, for example, I'd miss it, because there’s not much jazz there.

LJN: What is it about jazz that is such a consuming passion for you?

PW: It just gives me great pleasure; it has unlimited possibilities. I would assume that people who love classical music with a passion, are the same way; I love It too-but- I'm· not passionately in love with classical music. I love Bach and Puccini, the history of it. .... But jazz has that edge, and there's a heartbeat that's stronger in me with jazz and improvisational music, that is not there with people reading the notes off of a page that someone else has written. I like the rough edges of jazz, the earthiness of it. Although there's this Russian composer, Sofia Gubaidulina. Have you heard "Offertorium," on Deutsche Grammophon? She writes the way that "Black is the Color of My True Love's Hair" from my first album sounds. She's amazing.

LJN: Any last comments before we close?

PW: I'd just like to say that I wish that all humans in the world (laughs as she senses the platitude coming out) could have the time to appreciate art, appreciate music, appreciate literature....and not have to be so stressed. It sounds corny, but I really feel that way! It would be so nice if we could live on a higher plane, and exploit our potential. It almost seems like the Greeks did it better-we just don't seem to have the time for it. Every child has a desire to become a creative artist; wouldn’t it be nice if we could all live like that?

© J. Nai

Patty Waters' stunning new collection of duets with Jessica Williams, Love Songs, was recently released on the Jazz Focus label and is available through Cadence (Cadence Building, Redwood, NY 13679).


CD Title: Sings

Featured Artist: Patty Waters

Year: Reissued in 2009 - Originally Released in 1965
Record Label: ESP-Disk
Style: Jazz Vocals


As some people under 30 are no doubt tired of hearing, the 1960s was a time of innovation and upheaval. The '60s produced the Beatles and Albert Ayler, the Velvet Underground and Motown, Tim Hardin and Tiny Tim. The spheres of pop music, jazz, classical, blues, and the avant-garde clashed, mingled, and cross-pollinated. There were some powerful and iconic female voices then: Janis Joplin, Tammy Wynette, Aretha Franklin, and Patty Waters. The latter did not achieve chart success - many have never heard of her. But the few that DID hear Patty Waters have never forgotten her, and her legacy and influence glows/grows even now.

Singer and pianist Patty Waters emerged from the underground/free/avant-garde jazz scene in New York in the mid-'60s. She was inspired by Billie Holiday and no doubt the free players of that era -- in a roundabout way, Waters is to jazz singing what Albert Ayler was/is to the saxophone. Both expressed raw emotion in a manner that, depending on the listener (and the listener's mood), was harrowing, naive, cathartic, joyous, and unbearably alive. (To some, merely unbearable.) Her 1965 album Sings features eight tracks, most written by Waters, featuring just her voice and piano, and one track the fabulous pianist Burton Greene (still active!), drummer Tom Price, and bassist Steve Tintweiss. The latter is an unbelievable version of the Anglo-American folk standard "Black Is The Color of My True Love's Hair." Her solo originals feel like ghostly fragments, the voice dry and autumnal, evoking Holiday and Helen Merrill, the melancholia severe and full of bittersweet ache. "Black Is ... " finds Waters reaching down into places in her soul, heart, and/or mind that few singers will ever approach, pushing her voice into a sort of sublime, feral hysteria. It's as unsettling and amazing in the way Jimi Hendrix embraced "The Star-Spangled Banner" at Woodstock, along with Albert Ayler's "Ghosts" and the Velvet Underground's "I Heard Her Call My Name." Casual listening, this is mos defnot. Avant-goddess Diamanda Galas acknowledges her as an inspiration - if the sounds of Linda Sharrock, Jeanne Lee, Yoko Ono, Joan La Barbara, Meredith Monk, Gisberg, Shelley Hirsch, etc. truly reach you, then you owe it to yourself to hear Patty Waters' Sings.

Record Label Website:

From Jazz Singers, The Ultimate Guide

By Scott Yanow
Published 2008

Patty Waters
(Patricia Sue Stonebraker)
March 11, Vicksburg, MS

Patty Waters was an important part of the mid-1960s avant-garde jazz movement, an idiom that, prior to her arrival on the scene, seemed to have no room for vocalists. She made her mark on jazz history, survived the turmoil of the era, and decades later returned as a soft-voiced ballad singer.

She first heard jazz as a child on her family's large radio while sitting at their dairy farm in Iowa. Waters sang at fairs and town functions, had piano lessons from the time she was nine, and in high school won awards in music and drama. She also played organ and tympani. "My parents couldn't afford college for me, so they pushed me to become a band singer. In their eyes, band singers were to be admired. My parents were from the war era and associated the music with romance. I believe my parents had hoped my life could be happy like a Hollywood musical, but I'd say my life has been more like a film noir."

Waters started performing jazz right after high school, working in the Midwest and Pacific Northwest, living in Los Angeles for a little while. In 1964 she moved to New York and, after saxophonist Albert Ayler heard her increasingly adventurous singing at a nightclub, he recommended her to the ESP label. Patty Waters Sings starts out with quiet ballads in which her voice is barely louder than a whisper. But on the 13-minute "Black Is The Color Of My True Love's Hair," she made history with an intense and often shocking improvisation based on the song's words and utilizing screams and shrieks, in away breaking the sound barrier with her voice. It is still arguably the most significant avant-garde vocal of the 1960s.

Waters also recorded College Tour a few months later, an intriguing set that does not quite reach the heights of "Black Is The Color." Unfortunately, other than performing Ornette Coleman's "Lonely Woman" on a Marzette Watts album from 1968, she would be off records for 30 years, dropping out of the scene and moving to Hawaii and later Northern California to raise her son. Patty Waters was a lost legend until she returned to jazz in the late 1990s, performing at the 1999 Monterey Jazz Festival and recording again, although now as a Billie Holiday-inspired ballad singer.


Recommended CDs: Patty Waters Sings (ESP 1025) is her CD to get, while College Tour (ESP 1055) serves as a strong follow up. You Thrill Me: A Musical Odyssey 1962-79 (Water 137) has odds and ends, including commercials and private recordings that add to the singer's small but important discography. Love Songs (Jazz Focus 512) is her 1996 comeback album, a set of standards performed with the very sympathetic support of pianist Jessica Williams.Happiness Is A Thing Called Joe (DBK Works 523) from 2002 is a brittle and very real tribute to Billie Holiday. Patty Waters sounds both fragile and determined at the same time.

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